Saved and Depoliticised at One Stroke

Jeremy Harding reports from Kosovo

‘Humanitarian intervention’ has little to show for its brief appearance on the international stage. It arrived too late for Rwanda, gestured helplessly at Bosnia and, at last, in 2003, it was discovered in the arms of Shock and Awe, where it died of shame. Only Kosovo Albanians, about 1.8 million people, still applaud the violent expulsion of Slobodan Milosevic from their province in 1999. However they are less sure about the legacy of intervention and the advantages of being a United Nations protectorate.

If intervention was supposed to bring about development, which optimists see as a prelude to civility, it has not been a success. The most startling features of Kosovo, now that the cleansing of the Serbian minority is on hold, are the poverty of the province – for Albanians and Serbs alike – and the pitiful economy that keeps it locked in. Despite the creation of a small millionaire class, 45 per cent of its inhabitants are below the poverty level (unable to meet basic needs). Around 15 per cent live in extreme poverty, earning less than a euro a day. Most of Kosovo’s poor are supported by networks of extended family and clan, more important by far than the structures of organised politics or religion: a majority of Albanians in Kosovo are Sunni Muslims, only loosely observant, and a small Catholic minority is on the rise. In the absence of public provision or private sector wealth creation, it’s the cousins who count.

Earlier this year, the British government put infant mortality in Kosovo at ‘35 to 49 deaths per thousand live births’ – at least twice as high as the rest of Serbia and greater than that in Mexico or the Occupied Territories. Kosovo has one of the youngest populations in Europe. Every year 30,000 newcomers enter what might, in other circumstances, be described as a job market. Unemployment remains a feature of the new order as it was in the days of Milosevic, when Albanians were cleansed from the public sector. Roughly 40 per cent of Kosovo Albanians – closer to 50 by a UNDP guesstimate in 2006 – are without work. Kosovo Serbs, a population overestimated at 200,000, now rely on money from Belgrade, a system of local patronage and, like many Albanians, on racketeering.

No one would have imagined that a UN protectorate in Europe, stuffed with NGOs and awash with donor receipts, could perform so badly. Kosovo has low growth, no inflation, and few signs of an emerging economy. The roads are bad, the water supply is subject to cuts – the water is contaminated in any case – and the two coal-fired power stations in Obiliq, a township outside Pristina, are dying behemoths, polluting their way to extinction, unable to provide domestic users with regular electricity. Obiliq itself, stifled by their exertions, has a higher rate of respiratory disease than anywhere else in Kosovo.

Once a supplier of farm produce to other parts of Yugoslavia, Kosovo now brings in almost all its food, along with fuel and building materials. Its leading ‘export’ is scrap metal, a harvest of rundown plant from the Milosevic era and Nato bomb damage. Kosovo’s trade gap is dramatic: imports account for 90 per cent of legal cross-border trade. The UN, the EU and Nato have frozen the conflict between Serbs and Albanians for the last four years; inadvertently, too, they’ve kept development on ice. If room temperature is ever achieved, Kosovo will look very much like a failed state.

For the last four years Kosovans have regarded the UN’s mission, Unmik, as the source of their woes. The arrival of the UN, hard on the heels of Nato, was warmly welcomed, but it soon became obvious that the new legal protectorate, founded on Security Council Resolution 1244, was at the mercy of too many protectors and legislators. On the one hand, there were the three parts of the Unmik configuration: the UN itself, and the two bodies to which it delegated parts of the mission, the EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe. On the other, there were the forces of indigenous rule, the so-called ‘provisional institutions of self-government’, which Unmik was supposed to invigilate, but which hungered increasingly for real power: the Kosovo government, which will outlive the UN mission, consists of a president, an elected assembly – 120 seats – and an executive with a prime minister and a dozen ministries.

Kosovo’s main political parties have their origins in the anti-Milosevic resistance of the 1990s: Ibrahim Rugova’s non-violent Democratic League of Kosovo, which set up a shadow government and parallel systems (in health and education) for Albanians in 1989; and the Kosovo Liberation Army, an assortment of expatriate leftists and local fighters, which emerged in 1996. The LDK had plenty of support; the KLA was grudgingly admired but thought to be a law unto itself. There are now three main political parties: Rugova’s LDK and two ex-guerrilla formations, the PDK and the AAK. (The Serbian parties, which have been to the polls and won a handful of seats, boycott the assembly.) Under the UN administration, there have been three parliamentary elections. In the first Rugova took the presidency and a PDK man became prime minister. In 2004 the LDK and the AAK began ruling as a coalition: Rugova retained the presidency and a former KLA commander, Ramush Haradinaj of the AAK, became prime minister. In 2005 Haradinaj, summoned to the Hague to answer war crimes charges, stepped down (he was acquitted three months ago). Rugova died in 2006. A new round of elections in 2007 brought the PDK into office again, in coalition with the LDK. To the consternation of Serbia and Russia, the new prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, quickly announced that he favoured a unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo.

The ideologies of the parties are obscure to an outsider and sometimes even to the politicians themselves. After dozens of training sessions on ‘political modelling’, members who imagined their parties to be right-of-centre were forced to concede they had left-of-centre programmes and vice versa, a staffer at a policy research unit in Pristina recalled a few weeks ago. Albanian parties are networks rather than institutions; many have been implicated in corruption; no party has had a free hand to govern under the protectorate.

The unilateral declaration of independence came on 17 February; it was made amid much jubilation in the Kosovo assembly, in signal disregard of SCR 1244, and pinpointed the tensions between the UN and the government. Over the years there have been many disagreements, yet the tendency to bat decisions back and forth has been a problem too: it has suited the Kosovo government to blame its failings on Unmik, while Unmik has been happy to criticise locals when its own shortcomings are under scrutiny. Perhaps the EU, now preparing to take over from the UN, will bring an end to this inertia, but it is not a foregone conclusion.

Kosovo Albanians have lived in dependency for generations, and the years under Unmik, with its fudges and flops, have seemed like a forced march along a familiar road. The only period of which they speak fondly – older people, obviously – lasted from the end of the 1960s until the beginning of the 1980s: a time of prosperity, growth, regional autonomy and relative democracy for Kosovo within the Yugoslav Federation. It was Kosovans’ only experience of a working multiethnic society, sustained by good incomes and full employment. Prior to 1963, when the province got its autonomous status, Albanian memory is mostly of a dreary Communism. After Tito’s death in 1980 came the push for full Albanian national rights within Yugoslavia. Though Kosovo was effectively Albanian-run at the time, and Serbs were already leaving in fair numbers, Albanians remember these years as a long moment of difficulty in which the lessons of peace were slowly unlearned. The crunch came with Milosevic’s first visit to Kosovo Polje – ‘the field of blackbirds’ – in 1987, two years before his apotheosis as a warrior Serb at a rally on the edge of the same dismal town. Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy and turned it into an ethnic police state; Albanians were thrown out of work, persecuted, imprisoned. Rugova could do nothing about this and nor could the gunmen, when they appeared. Still, the KLA was a high-profile armed movement and gave Albanians what they’d lacked until then: a systematic violence of their own. It only remained for them to win influential champions in the West. Nato and the internationals rode in on a tide of glory in 1999. They resettled the hundreds of thousands of people who’d fled into Albania and Macedonia during the bombing, and they deployed along the provincial border while Kosovo Albanians began their own ethnic cleansing (perhaps a thousand Serbs and Roma were killed in the process, tens of thousands fleeing into Serbia proper).

Life under Unmik soon felt like a subtle form of bondage. North of the Ibar river, which divides the town of Mitrovica, the Serbs remained organised and bankrolled by Belgrade; the Albanians to the south saw this – and still see it – as de facto confirmation of Kosovo’s unresolved status in law: gratitude to Nato and Kofi Annan did not mean acceptance of 1244, in which there is nothing to challenge Serbian sovereignty. Kosovo Albanians still see 1244, and therefore the UN, as the two great obstacles to a clean break with the rest of Serbia, which UDI alone cannot produce. They also regard the north of Kosovo, where Belgrade administers what is now a Serb protectorate within a protectorate, as an outright threat.

The UN is blamed, too, for the state of the economy. Much of the disappointment centres on the fact that UN expenditure, now in the order of £25 billion, was ill judged: too much spent on traineeships and seminars – ‘institution-building’, ‘capacity-building’, ‘technical assistance’ – not nearly enough on infrastructure. The UN has jingled the keys to independence, Kosovo Albanians will tell you, but refused to use them. The ambiguous status of the territory has been a large disincentive to foreign investors. Who can tell where their capital will be tied up or their taxes levied ten years from now? In a largely autonomous part of Serbia? A protectorate run by a handful of jaded international bodies? Or Europe’s latest sovereign state? If Albanians grasp that the UN has had little choice in all this, given Russia’s opposition to a Kosovan state, they’re unwilling to admit it.

The strongest expression of disdain for Unmik came in 2004, as the territory was swept by a wave of Albanian violence against minorities, mostly Serbs, and UN installations. The trouble began when the deaths of three Albanian children, apparently drowned in the Ibar river, were blamed on Serbs. By the time it was over, there were about twenty dead, nearly a thousand wounded and four thousand people displaced. At least seven hundred minority-owned homes and 25 Orthodox sites were damaged. The organised anti-Serbian extremists who turned this bout of pent-up frustration into a pogrom weren’t interested solely in a new round of ethnic cleansing; they were venting their anger about the UN.

The recycling of fear in Kosovo has been continuous. Serbs now have more reason to be wary of Albanians than vice versa. But vice versa is a way of life here and residual fear among Albanians, even predating Milosevic, is strong; the guilt they now feel about their treatment of minorities in the wake of the 1999 bombardment, and again in 2004, probably nourishes their dread. So do politicians in Belgrade who vow never to let go of Kosovo. They may not entirely mean what they say – in the short term it plays well – but Albanians tend to take them at their word, even if a Serbian realist with his country’s interests at heart might wish to abandon Kosovo, on the grounds of its economic performance alone.

Albanians worry that there are no realists in Belgrade, only a people feeding on old grievances. Then again, Albanians are lured away from the deadlocked present by the temptations of adversarial history just as irresistibly. Mentor Agani, a lecturer in social science and political history in Pristina, suspects that a settlement which fell short of Kosovan independence could have been achieved at some point in the last twenty years of the federation. But in his version of events, intransigence in Belgrade always tended against a deal. Yugoslavia had only ever been a vehicle for Serbian ambition, he insists, and when it was finally unable to deliver the dream of ascendancy, the ideology of Greater Serbia was dusted off. In the 1990s hundreds of thousands on the receiving end wound up in jails, refugee camps, field hospitals, cemeteries and pits in the ground. (Agani’s elderly father was a leading figure in Rugova’s nationalist LDK. Two weeks into the Nato bombing, he was ordered off a bus by Serbian security, taken away and executed.)

I wondered if Agani was underplaying the nationalist strands in Albanian thinking. As for Serbian ‘intransigence’, hadn’t Tito’s death marked the onset of something similar among Albanians in Kosovo, with growing animosity against Serbs and signs that Albanians were toying with the idea of a monoethnic province that could eventually become a state – or even part of a Greater Albania? Violence and ethnic nationalism, Agani seemed to say, were regrettable symptoms of a fierce anti-colonial sentiment among Albanians. Anti-colonial? This was indeed a colonial conflict, he felt, but an unusual one, inasmuch as Albanian national consciousness predated Serbian colonisation. (Not long afterwards a young Albanian mentioned he was reading Fanon. What’s the relevance? I asked. He was taken, he said, by Fanon’s account of post-colonial regimes – he had Kosovo politicians in mind – inheriting the attitudes of their old colonial masters.)

Agani has misgivings about what’s happened in Kosovo since 1999. ‘We’ve lost the feeling of responsibility for each other. In the 1990s we discovered something really important. We didn’t know what to call it, but I think it was democracy. Rugova’s parallel structures served everybody, rich and poor. Since then we’ve sacrificed democracy to liberty . . . Tocqueville saw this in America and you can see it here.’ He is uncertain, too, about the ‘ruthless liberalisation’ he identifies: a result, no doubt, of the campaign in Kosovo having been spearheaded by the great exponents of liberal market ideology, the US and Britain, but in any case a process affecting all post-Communist ‘transition’ economies, among which Kosovo is just a latecomer. Partly because of the Milosevic years, but partly, as Agani believes, because of longstanding attitudes in Albanian society, there is only a dim sense of the purpose served by the state or public institutions. ‘We lived outside the state for years,’ he asserts, ‘and became very good at subsistence. Statehood is not a skill we’ve had.’ Dissent and resistance among Albanians were always framed in terms of the national question. There were few anxieties about wealth discrepancies; that some did better than others was a fact of life, ‘in the nature of things’, as Agani put it.

The word ‘nature’ seems to matter here: it was, after all, part of the Serbs’ view of Albanians that they were naturally backward and ill-prepared for life in a modern polity. (‘Backwardness was on our side,’ Agani told me, alluding to the Albanian birth rate, so much higher than that of the Serbs.) Now this nature is reimagined as a brake on majority-Albanian public institutions. At the same time, conveniently enough, it suggests a predisposition to the neoliberal ideal of an unregulated economy. Despite the deadweight of the UN, perhaps as a result of it, Kosovo expresses something of that ideal, but it is, in the words of one Albanian critic, ‘a market without an economy’, a case of unevenness without development, jolting between extremes of poverty and wealth.

People have a good idea where the new money comes from. Lately, it’s said, human trafficking has gone into decline in Kosovo: according to the OSCE, Serbia proper, once a ‘transit country’, is increasingly a ‘country of origin’. The drugs trade is also said to be waning, though an officer I spoke to in the Kosovo Police Service had made a bust involving 15 kg of heroin that morning. Ordinary cross-border smuggling is a profitable business and a trade in small arms is bringing in revenue for the syndicates in charge: according to Krenar Gashi, a journalist in Pristina, there are thousands of hunting rifles, fraudulently licensed or plain illegal, in Kosovo; one UN estimate puts the number of hand-guns at 400,000. Steady earnings from low-level impropriety can be rewarding too. Building permits left pending for years, civil cases gathering dust in the courts, medical treatment – all these can be expedited with cash, and the pocket money adds up. Pristina, meanwhile, is a chaos of haphazard development, its outskirts extending in disjointed fashion from the centre: it’s obvious, with several thousand illegal buildings already standing, that sums have changed hands simply to circumvent the planning regulations.

Every indigenous administration that’s governed since 2001 has been more or less corrupt. Procurement, public tenders and privatisations have been the main sources of temptation, setting local politicians and civil servants on a collision course with wealth opportunities from which they’ve failed to veer away in time. Ministry budgets begin to look baggy at close range, with rich pickings for contractor and client. Pharmaceutical companies have been asked for kickbacks by the Ministry of Health in return for a signature. Hospital equipment assigned to the health service has ended up in private practice. Sharp conflicts of interest hover over the future of public services – in telecoms and energy especially – where policy formulation is prey to decision-makers with one perch in the public domain, or indeed the privatisation office, and another on the arm of a company with much to gain from deregulation.

Public funds alone cannot resurrect the remains of the state sector and the rules drawn up for privatisation under the auspices of the Kosovo Trust Association, an EU-run component of the UN mission, are painstakingly thorough. One of the trust’s principles is that no privatisation can go ahead without management and workers being consulted. But according to Hasan Abazi, the deputy head of the Kosovo trade-union confederation, there’s nothing to stop the government preparing the ground by approving a new privatisation-friendly management team. The sale of Kosovo’s duct-pipe factory last year under KTA supervision was a variation on this theme. The old Belgrade management had been chased out in 1999 and the business commandeered by Albanians. Abazi says the company, barely functioning, was sold off for 3.5 million euros. The land alone, he reckoned, was worth three million and stocks about two million; he put the value of the machinery at 20 million.

A couple of days later I met Abazi’s son, who’d grown up by the factory. The orchards and fields that were part of the property, he said, had been deliberately run down to force a low sale and the factory’s output had fallen by 85 per cent since 1999. There was also the matter of outstanding compensation for Albanian workers cleansed from the factory in the old days: an adjudication which the KTA has sought to overrule and which the present management is in no hurry to honour. In several privatisations, the KTA’s insistence that workers receive 20 per cent of the value of the sale has got tangled up in the question: which workers exactly?

In one of the biggest privatisations overseen by the KTA, Kosovo’s ferronickel complex, badly bombed in 1999, was acquired by a subsidiary of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, a large Kazakh mining and energy enterprise, for around 35 million euros. It’s well known in Kosovo that some of the workers there do not receive the minimum wage and that the superannuated grid has been selling electricity to the company at cut-price rates. Avni Zogiani, a journalist who now works as a corruption monitor for a Kosovo NGO, estimates the loss to the energy sector – and thus to the public purse – at 20 million euros a year.

One enterprise, the Trepca mining and smelting conglomerate, is so vast and dishevelled, its financing and foreign debt under Milosevic so arcane, that the internationals and the government cannot agree what to do with it. It was once regarded as Kosovo’s great earner and its lead-zinc extraction component still has real potential. But whoever takes on Trepca will be inheriting a total debt of at least 80 million euros, including unpaid workers’ pensions and payroll taxes from the Milosevic era, and a constellation of derelict plant.

Kosovo Serbs are suspicious of plans for this and other privatisations: even though Serbia is encouraged to put in claims for ownership and investment prior to 1989, they’ve tended to argue that privatisation is a form of plunder. But Kosovo Albanians are not so keen either. The Kosovo government wants to hold onto some of the Trepca complex, for example, even though it might cost 20 per cent of the annual budget, over several years, to put them in order. There are fears, too, that Serbian businesses will use privatisation to get control of Trepca and reservations about the policy of privatisation as a whole, so that the general wish to hasten foreign investment coincides with a growing edginess about the bargain-basement atmosphere in which public or ‘socially-owned’ assets will be going under the hammer.

Almost pointless, in this climate, to talk about workers’ rights and the role of trade unions, but that is Abazi senior’s job. (He was seriously assaulted after auditing the Kosovo TUC and exposing high levels of misappropriation.) By Abazi’s count, the labour laws drafted by the Kosovo assembly have been sent back six times with criticisms by Unmik’s head office. He isn’t sure whether it’s the UN itself raising the objections or an interested party in the wings – the State Department say, or the IMF – but he is tired of the UN failing to pull its weight when it’s required and sticking its oar in when it isn’t. Unmik’s 27-point programme on workplace practice, the only recourse he has in the absence of proper law, is inadequate to deal with his caseload of unfair dismissals, payment below the minimum wage, injury claims and illegal contracts.

In Kosovo every scam and indignity, from the protection of ex-KLA war criminals down, is common knowledge. The street is so alert and the journalists who matter so dogged in the face of intimidation that very little falls quietly into oblivion. The difficulty arises at the point of legal accountability. Big men may well be disgraced, and in Kosovan society dishonour is a sort of accounting. But it’s only in the last year that they’ve begun to face material consequences, including imprisonment, for their actions. In Kosovo the law is not an ass so much as a mule: a shambling hybrid of old Yugoslav law and Unmik decrees. Judicial interpretation, since the intervention, has been one of the great humanitarian mysteries, whether a judge is a local – and possibly loathed for his association with the ancien regime – or parachuted in under the ‘police and justice’ rubric of the international presence. Often when a case is agreed to be important, the Kosovan judiciary are elbowed out so that a foreigner, harder to bully or threaten, can do things properly.

After the events of 2004, Human Rights Watch decided to test the health of the justice system by monitoring the convictions that might reasonably have followed, with 56 cases of serious ethnic crimes under investigation. Of these, by 2006, two were pending, 29 were still at the pre-trial stage, a dozen had been dismissed and only 13 had resulted in convictions, with the minimum sentence handed down in several. In March, a month after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, HRW published an update. There were by now 35 convictions, most of those convicted receiving fines or suspended sentences.

Many of HRW’s findings lead down the same dark alley. Lenient sentences, it believes, are the result of Kosovan prosecutors being threatened. Betrayal of sources by local police, it reports, explains the unwillingness of the UN force to share data and names of witnesses with its counterparts. HRW’s most striking recommendation in Kosovo, a place where recommendations pile up in drifts, is for ‘witness relocation arrangements with states outside the region’. A good witness protection programme, potentially the best in the Balkans, is being developed in Kosovo. In the meantime, however, justice is at the mercy of influence. Taking key witnesses out of harm’s way is a good idea, but it will founder on the immigration policies of ‘states outside the region’, among them Britain, one of Kosovo’s most ardent champions in 1999.

Even in frontier economies, corruption can get a bad name. Mimoza Kusari Lila, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, consoles herself that ‘transition’ in Kosovo has not been as sleazy as it’s turned out to be in Bulgaria. She’s nonetheless convinced that irregularities in privatisation and the personal enrichment of politicians are driving a new cynicism, compounded by joblessness and the terrible state of health and education in the province. This is as true of businesses, she feels, as it is of individuals. Tax evasion is the result (600 million euros a year in unrecovered tax from 2004 to 2006), while Unmik’s customs system, which slaps tariffs on imports, is dodged whenever possible because it is a punitive levy that cramps wealth generation. As for the perversion of justice, Lila simply says it takes guts and patience to train a judiciary to resist corruption, but ‘we’re not cowards’ – a barbed remark, aimed at Unmik. This folding of one story (local corruption) into another (international prevarication) to create a seamless narrative about the woes of Kosovo is now a kind of orthodoxy.

The quicker the UN mission builds down, as it’s been supposed to do since June, the better, as far as Kosovo Albanians are concerned. Widespread disgust attends any mention of ‘stability’, the very condition the UN was here to guarantee but which is now seen as a euphemism for stagnation, poverty and graft. Dozens of prominent figures, including the respectable Lila and the dissident Albin Kurti, the leader of Kosovo’s Self-Determination Movement, take the view that stability is a kind of enslavement. To which Kurti, a dedicated destabiliser, adds that the ambiguity of Kosovo’s status makes politics a waste of time. There’s no point drawing up sets of demands, in the proper democratic way, if you don’t know where to address them. In the 1990s Milosevic put Kurti in jail for ‘endangering the territorial integrity and sovereignty’ of Yugoslavia. In 2007 he was detained again and placed under house-arrest in Pristina: his movement has been openly hostile to the UN, throwing garbage at Unmik buildings and demonstrating in the capital (two of his followers were killed last year by Romanian police, using ‘non-lethal’ ammunition). Many people who draw short of his frankness share Kurti’s view that Kosovo Albanians have been infantilised by Unmik and, indeed, by intervention. ‘We were saved and depoliticised at one stroke,’ he told me.

The quieter strain in this orthodoxy, beneath the assertions that Kosovo should govern itself and be able to take risks on its own account, is entirely realist: Kosovo is weak, poor, facing outright hostility from Russia and Serbia on the one hand; caught on the other in the motionless world of international good intentions. It must accept the harsh truth of its situation and cling tightly to the skirts of its sturdiest sponsors. On UDI day in February there was no national anthem and it was decided to go with ‘Ode to Joy’ instead, even though Kosovo, unlike Serbia, is hundreds of miles from the feed road to accession. A declaration of dependence could hardly have been clearer.

Kosovo Albanians rightly regard the EU as their best hope; it is also (rightly) seen as a bridge to America. Only a handful of intellectuals are suspicious of Washington; most people tend to worship the US in a raw, aspirational way: on a clear day, they can make out Puerto Rico. What their liberators have gone on to do in Iraq means as little to them as the fact that Camp Bondsteel, the 900-acre US military base south of Pristina, has been part of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ policy. No garbage-throwing there. Bondsteel now provides hundreds of jobs – yes, jobs – and rotates Albanian menial staff through bases in Iraq and Afghanistan for respectable rates of pay: part of the new way of life, superior to anything on offer from Belgrade.

Nato will remain indefinitely in Kosovo, but the non-military presence there is already changing. After 15 June, when the Kosovo government adopted a new constitution, Unmik was set to wind down rapidly, giving way to two successor missions. The first of these is an EU initiative known as the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (Eulex); it is meant to focus on upgrading the police and judiciary in the territory. The second is an International Civilian Office, authorised by a steering group of 25 states that look kindly on Kosovan independence. The group includes the US and 20 members of the EU; its design, in opening the ICO in Pristina, is to implement the plan for supervised independence devised in 2007 by the former UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The ICO’s head man also serves as the EU’s special representative in Kosovo and is responsible for the EU ‘rule of law’ mission on the ground. This, then, is another transition, strewn with technical problems, one which takes Kosovo away from the UN and hands it to Brussels and Washington, together with the Ahtisaari plan which, although drawn up under the auspices of the UN, was never adopted by it because of the Russian position.

Ahtisaari’s plan is the only sensible approach so far to an insoluble problem. It would allow Kosovo to conclude international agreements and seek membership of international bodies; it would impose a boldly asymmetrical solution, with a disproportionate representation for Kosovo Serbs and other minorities in the assembly, the ministries and the supreme court. To change the constitution a two-thirds majority would be required from the weighted minorities. Orthodox sites would be policed and there would be ambitious decentralisation, allowing Serbian enclaves in Kosovo to run their own health and education services, teaching in Serbian and using textbooks issued in Belgrade. Plenty of Albanians don’t like the plan – the decentralisation especially – or the sweeping powers conferred on the EU/ICO chief, an old Nato hand from the Netherlands, but their politicians have said they’ll learn to live with it.

Eulex deployment – 2000 judges, prosecutors and police are planned – is hampered somewhat by Unmik’s presence. Russian opposition has forced Ban Ki-moon to keep the UN lame-duck operation in place, but there is a strong intimation now that this will be a technicality. To Russia’s dismay, Moon has circumvented the Security Council and announced a ‘reconfiguration’ – in other words, a slow dismantling and a review of the situation in October. Four months is a long time, in the eyes of Kosovo Albanians, and they’re not sure about the word ‘review’. The EU will not be welcomed or recognised in the Serb-majority north, which lends force to the argument that the UN should linger on in some capacity. The mood in Pristina is upbeat nonetheless: EU-management is a step on the right road; indeed it’s a destination. It will remain illegal in the eyes of Russia and Serbia, but if it works, Albanians will be able to say that they’ve been helped, yet again, by an infringement of international law.

The Nato intervention, which many saw as a rustling job, was regarded as the arrival of the cavalry by the terrorised majority in Kosovo. The bombing is, in retrospect, the least of it. The real injustice of the intervention has been the long aftermath, in which the UN, through fear and indecision, has bowed to majority Albanian wishes and failed to deal with the persecution of Serbs. That persecution may not compare, in numbers, with what happened to Kosovo Albanians under Milosevic – or with what might have happened had he been given another crack at the province – but it has allowed Serbs, in Kosovo and beyond, to claim they are being punished not once but many times, and in different ways, for the crimes of an Oriental despot.

Their sense of injustice is compounded in the Hague, where Ramush Haradinaj was indicted on 37 counts for war crimes in 2005 but walked away earlier this year. Haradinaj is one of the few serious politicians in Kosovo: young, not a little ruthless, nor a man – he assured me – to worry about making himself unpopular; probably the best prime minister of all the indigenous administrations so far. If there’s ever a multiethnic society in Kosovo again, Haradinaj is probably the person who could hold Albanians to their word. He is a strenuous advocate of the Ahtisaari plan and, provided an appeal by the prosecution in the Hague comes to nothing, he has a good chance of leading a government again. But his past is not forgotten, even by his own people, while in Belgrade his status as a potential leader is thought to be the overriding consideration for the internationals. (Matrix Chambers took on the brief, and it was a short step, via Cherie Booth, from the verdict to a full conspiracy theory involving Tony Blair.)

Years ago, in western Kosovo, I stumbled on a lone Albanian family, one of many who’d crept back to the ruins of a village destroyed a few months earlier by Milosevic, and had just been terrorised a second time by Serbian security, in reprisal for an ambush the night before. Their young men had been taken away and all the other families hounded out once again. An EU monitor was inspecting a grey snowdrift cut with tyre tracks and basted with spent cartridges and blood. The site of the ambush had been astutely chosen to provoke a Serbian response and raise the political stakes by recycling a couple of hundred people into the vast pool of ‘internally displaced’ Albanians, already the object of an international scandal. The word came back that the local KLA commander was a man called Ramush, a firebrand who’d just turned 30.

It’s one way of doing things – and it was happening all over the province in 1998, just as it had in the rest of Yugoslavia. Since then Haradinaj has reinvented himself. He is a strong man with a bottom line about the past – ‘the Serbs destroyed the federation; then they destroyed our lives’ – and a good sense of Kosovo’s unglamorous prospects. Kosovo has been reinvented too. The difference is that Haradinaj has proved he has the makings of a statesman while Kosovo – whose independence in some form or other is now irrevocable – has yet to prove that it can be a state. Washington and Brussels (but increasingly Brussels) mean to fix that. Much, including the success of the Ahtisaari plan, depends on EU penetration in the Western Balkans and on Kosovo’s unhelpful neighbours to the north.